Over the weekend, presidential candidates Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida and Donald Trump held separate rallies in Huntsville, Alabama, the home of NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center, and opened their minds, albeit briefly, about space exploration. According to AL.com, Saturday, Rubio promised a “Reagan-style” rebuilding of the military which would include “the space program.” He said, “Great nations do great things. We’re going back into space.” A day later, Trump promised that he would keep the space program “going” and would not seek budget cuts for NASA, according to Space News’ Jeff Foust.
To be sure, neither promise, brief and tucked away in larger speeches, held any specifics. Neither Rubio nor Trump offered the sort of detail that Newt Gingrich had when he promised a moon base by 2020 during the 2012 election during a speech in Florida. Gingrich went on to endure a blistering assault from his political opponents as well as from the media. His moon base idea was even the subject of a Saturday Night Live sketch.
Trump had previously suggested that going to Mars would have to take a back seat to rebuilding America’s infrastructure, fixing potholes and bridges in two separate remarks.
The lack of detail that the candidates have offered about what the space program would look like under their potential presidencies is curious, to say the least. To be sure, NASA takes up less than .5 percent of the federal budget. However, the space agency is high profile enough to warrant more attention that it has gotten so far. No other organization returns pictures of Pluto and the surface of Mars or sends human beings beyond the planet to conduct science, after all.